Death toll in South Africa violence rises to 45 as looting continues

Unrest sparked by jailing of Jacob Zuma in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces

Despite thousands of troops being deployed in South Africa, riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces spread after five nights of unrest. Protests last week, calling for former president Zuma’s release from jail, morphed into scenes of total chaos - with some citizens now opening fire on crowds to protect their shops from looting. Video: Reuters

 

The death toll in ongoing riots that have engulfed two South African provinces since former president Jacob Zuma was jailed last week has risen to 45.

Although the government has deployed 2,500 troops to help overstretched police quell violent protests and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, South Africans were bracing themselves for a fifth night of unrest on Tuesday.

So far 26 people have been killed since Friday in KwaZulu-Natal, when protests calling for Zuma’s release from jail erupted in the former president’s home province. Most of the victims died in stampedes that occurred during mass-looting incidents, according to provincial premier Sihle Zikalala.

Gauteng premier David Makuru has said the number of deaths from the violence that has swept through his province stood at 19 as of Tuesday. More than 750 people linked to the unrest in both provinces have been arrested to date, say police.

After touring affected areas around Durban, KwaZulu-Natal’s capital, on Tuesday the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), said the current troop deployment is insufficient to bring the situation under control.

“It is no exaggeration to say the affected neighbourhoods have been turned into a war zone by marauding mobs and there is still no sign of the violence letting up,” DA leader John Steenhuisen told reporters.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has reportedly asked for the army to be on standby due to fears his province might be next to explode, after social media messages urging local people to riot were intercepted by authorities.

The destruction of property and looting are causing significant damage to local businesses, which are already buckling under the strain of South Africa’s low economic growth and a crippling third wave of coronavirus.

Vaccinations hit

The violence is also hindering the government’s stuttering Covid-19 vaccination drive, with 109 inoculation sites now closed nationwide.

State security minister Ayanda Dlodlo said on Tuesday her officials are investigating whether former security agents linked to Zuma (79) were instigating the violence.

The former president was removed from office in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress party over allegations of corruption.

He received a 15-month jail sentence from the constitutional court in late June for refusing to obey its order to attend an inquiry investigating public sector corruption during his presidency.

On Monday, lawyers for South Africa’s fourth democratically elected president applied to the constitutional court to have his jail sentence rescinded, and it is expected to deliver its ruling in the coming days.

While calls to free Zuma from prison were the initial spark for the unrest, South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies has said growing inequality, poverty and joblessness have prompted thousands of desperate and angry citizens to join in.